Health advocates are concerned that the Liberals’ proposed crackdown on hoarders and property owners who fail to keep their properties clean, won’t address the psychological factors behind the phenomenon. They are asking the ACT Government to invest in mental health programs to help hoarders overcome their compulsion.
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe proposed new laws into the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday morning (14 August) to force sordid properties to be cleaned up and penalties imposed.
Mr Coe said the Liberals have received numerous complaints about the Government’s failure to address residential hoarding issues, despite the health and safety risks hoarding can present.
Kaleen resident Kimuel Jetter said his neighbour’s front and back yards have been the site of mass hoarding over the past six years. The hoarding initially focused on animals but now the yard is filled with whitegoods like refrigerators and washing machines.
Mr Jetter said he has addressed the issue with his neighbour but with no success.
“My concern is for the health and safety. I don’t like going out in my backyard and having the smell be an issue,” Mr Jetter said.
“I want to use my property comfortably without issue, without smell, without mosquitos, and having to worry about rodents. I purchased my property so I can enjoy it and at the moment that’s not happening.”
However, Mental Health Community Coalition ACT executive officer Simon Viereck has warned the Liberals against their approach to dealing with hoarders, saying that it doesn’t solve the problem.
“Hoarding is a mental health issue,” Mr Viereck told Region Media. “It is compulsive behaviour. It is not just because the person wants to have lots of stuff. They just can’t help themselves.
“What we know from members of ours who work with people who have hoarding behaviours, just cleaning the place up and taking them away does not solve the problem and it doesn’t solve the reason why the person is hoarding.
“While a clean up can be an important thing to do and I don’t discount that there could be safety issues, if you simply go in and clean away all the stuff, they are likely to start accumulating again the very next day.
“What we need is someone to support that person through working out why they are collecting all this stuff and working out a way to let go of it.”
Under the Liberals’ proposed laws, a government inspector must attend the premises at least once every 20 working days once an order to clean up the property has been issued.
If an ongoing order is issued, clearing the property must be completed within five working days, while the owner or tenant will have to pay twice the expected value of clean up costs.
Mr Viereck said along with these proposed laws, the Government needs to invest in research into the mental health factors that underline the issue.
“This is an area that is still relatively new in terms of research,” Mr Viereck said. “So we don’t necessarily know all about it yet. There is also no funding in this area at the moment.
“I would certainly like to see more powers matched by more support for people to actually address their hoarding behaviour. If you don’t address the behaviour, the problem will just come back.”
Senior manager of mental health and wellbeing at Woden Community Service, Pam Boyer, said she is very concerned about the Canberra Liberals’ proposed legislative changes.
“We need to make sure these people are assisted and not punished,” Ms Boyer said. “At the basis of hoarding behaviour, there is grief, loss and trauma and other underlying mental illnesses.
“We are concerned about this approach because we feel that the things that need to be in place to assist people and to get real change are not actually there.”
Mr Jetter agreed, saying a combination of support and financial repercussions should be the solution.
“I appreciate the fact that it might be a mental health issue, but the mental health of the residents around him are being impacted,” he said. “Taking it away is a good first step and then maybe going in there and counselling [them] to get some help.”